Some questions and my answers to a little interview I did recently for FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS):
1. What would you say to someone sitting down to watch this film for the first time, knowing nothing about it?
To please put all preconveived notions about what sex and romance should be, to crank up the volume, and get ready to laugh and be turned-on…
2. What was the inspiration for writing the story for this film? Is it autobiographical at all?
Well, yes, back in my college days, I had a few long-term friends with benefits, of course, we called them fuck buddies back then. Which was the original name for the script, when I first penned it back in 1999. But I was finding that none of my actors wanted a film called fuck buddies on their resume. I’ve always felt it was an interesting aspect to any friendship, especially male/female friendships. How can you not want to be with a person with whom you have a lot in common?
3. How did the project come together? Was it difficult to get this film off the ground and into production? What were the major challenges?
The biggest challenges are always fund raising and casting. I raised about half the money pretty quickly, based on the script. I found matching funds from a group interested in also putting the film out on DVD. A win-win, until they started giving me script notes. I’m beyond the point of taking script notes from investment bankers and accountants. My feeling is, you want to invest in the film, great. But you have no say. Life is too short to deal with assholes who think because they have money they know anything about story development. So, the minute they brought up script notes, I told them what they could do with their matching funds, and moved on to the lower budget I had already prepared. (I always have backup lower budgets.)
4. How was the casting process? Any surprises in the cast you finally got together?
Well, Margaret Laney was onboard first…she was friends with Jake Alexander…who knew Brendan Bradley…who knew Anne Petersen. Then Jake remembered an old friend from Boston, Alex Brown. So that was 5/6 of our lead cast. It was the final role which took a while, and eventually went to Lynn Mancinelli. The leads rocked. It helped that a number of them knew each other, but it also helped that we rehearsed once a week for going on 6 months because filling shooting. They all seem like good friends. The chemistry is there. I couldn’t ask for more. And likewise, there’s no one else I’d picture in the lead roles. They own them. But, as always, finding supporting players was a lot harder. No real surprises, except for perhaps Tara Stiles, who plays one of the webcam girls. She’s an uber-famous yoga instructor now. She rocked that small part. Wish we had seen more of both her, and the coffee shop girl, played by Rooney Mara.
5. How was Rooney Mara to work with? What do you think of her casting in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?
I’ve been friends with Rooney for a long time. I originally cast her as the Ilona, the Daughter of God, in the intended film version of my first novel, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told. In fact you can see her on the cover of the paperback reprint. But when I walked away from $2 million in funding (same reason as above), I moved on to FWB. But Rooney looked too young at the time to play any of the lead roles. I think she’s going to kick ass in Dragon Tattoo. I’m proud of her. Can’t wait to one day get Second Greatest Story off the ground.
6. Any memorable moments on set?
It was a tough shoot. We had a lot of locations and only 18 days. And there are many times I’m a 20-take director. So we don’t have much down time. Scratch that, we have no down time. But that said, my favorite day of shooting was the, well, without giving away too much, let’s just call it the orgy scene. It was very tight quarters. We shot that in an attic, so the ceiling where we placed the camera and crew was about 3 feet high. It was in the 90s, that day. No A/C. And yet, there’s one particular shot in which that scene all comes together. It wasn’t planned. It was as if the god if indie films was shining down upon us and it all just clicked. But you’ll know it because what you never expect to happen, happens.
7. Are there any particular scenes you like the best, or that you’d like audiences to really take note of?
I have two favorite scenes in the movie that still to this day give me goosebumps because they feel so real. Both are between Chloe and Owen. The first is the kiss on up East Rock park, when they first talk about what they want to be when they grow up. The other is the dance at their senior prom, when he puts his jacket around her shoulders. The looks they give each other are beyond perfect. I made the film and yet I believe in those moments they are in love.
8. How about any scenes that were particularly challenging to shoot?
The East Rock scenes…on those nights it would either be raining, or freezing, or both. NEVER shoot exterior scenes in low budget films. It’s suicide. Also the bar scenes. 21 pages in about 22 hours, with band performances, shooting overnight for two nights while the bar (Cafe Nine, in New Haven) was closed.
9. What would you say is the overall message you’d like people to take away from the film?
Sex is something different for everyone. We all have our kinks, whatever they might be. Instead of discriminating against people because of differences, we should learn to embrace and enjoy those differences. It might just turn you on like you’ve never been turned on before.
You can watch FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) now on Fancast or Babelgum. Or you can purchase the DVD (with tons of extras) at Amazon.
Adrian and I ended the day in Boston back at Q Division Studios, first with an interview with the guys from AM Stereo, who have an amazing Replacements inspired number call “Bob Stinson” then with Bill Janovitz, the lead singer of Buffalo Tom.
The one thing that was becoming very apparent, was that in the grand tradition of the Velvet Underground, The Replacements inspired people to pick up guitars and play. The punk tradition that anyone could do it. But you didn’t even need the uniform. Look I love The Clash. I think they’re one of the five greatest bands of all time. (Live, the second greatest band of all time.) But let’s be real, they wore a uniform. The Mats on the other hand looked as if they’d just rolled out of bed. As if they’d perhaps slept in their clothes. They looked like the guys working the mini-mart or pop in any clichéd job description you want. And they were hardly the greatest musicians when they started. Hell, they were hardly ever in tune. But they inspired such hope and confidence.
They made it look easy. Real talent does that. Makes you believe it’s a cinch. Of course, then you try and write a song like “Unsatisfied” or “Color Me Impressed” or “If Only You Were Lonely,” and you suddenly realize their brilliance. Not only is it harder than it looks. A lot harder. It’s impossible. The proof is that no one would ever do it again quite like The Replacements.
Next up on that long day in Boston, Mike Gent of the Figgs, another big fan, who of course also backed Tommy Stinson on one of his solo tours. This was the first day interview where we realized we’d have a very pet friendly film on our hands, as I had to make the decision to allow pets (dogs mainly) to roam free, sit on sofas, etc. Or not. Well, anyone who knows me knows my decision.
Mike has this great old black pooch that kept jumping up onto the couch, chewing its Kong, coming over to the camera. Basically being a dog. He would be the first of many such canine cameos in CMO. And I truly believe they add a more human dimension to the film.
Mike told this great story about always searching for a copy of ALL SHOOK DOWN on vinyl. (It was never originally released on vinyl in the states.) Well, when in England on tour he found a copy. He was so excited he actually opened the album on the plane ride home, just to look at the record and insert. He found it a little strange that while there were grooves for six tunes on side one, there were only grooves for five tunes on side two. And ASD had thirteen tracks in all. When he got home he quickly discovered why. While side one was the first six songs of The Replacements’ last album, side two was inside a Kenny Rogers/Dolly Parton album. A mistake from the factory where the vinyl was pressed.
We interviewed Dave Minehan in his Wooly Mammoth Sound Studio. Not only had his band The Neighborhoods opened for The Replacements (and the Clash) way back in the day, Dave had played guitar on the first Paul Westerberg solo tour. So he was well-versed in Mats history. His stories were varied and funny. He not only loved the band (He “drank the Kool-Aid,” as he put it), he loved their every album. A rarity. In fact one of my favorite quotes in the film is his comment about Don’t Tell A Soul. (Of course, you’ll have to wait to see the film to know what it is.)
As I had long ago decided that Color Me Obsessed would cover The Replacements from when that first demo tape went from Paul’s to Peter Jesperson’s hands, through to their breakup at Grant Park on July 1st, 1991, my biggest predicament with Minehan came when he recalled an amazing tale about touring with Paul in London and running into Joe Strummer at an outdoor flea market. Luckily, we have a lot of knobs on that old answering machine on the CMO website. Click the volume control and you can hear the story.
If I wasn’t sure after interviewing Jack Rabid, that I indeed did have a movie here. Dave cemented it. We talked for over 90 minutes, and I left feeling that I had found my musical twin. The guy’s got great tastes in bands!
Over the holidays last year, two old friends joined the production team: Dean Falcone, whom I’ve known for about three decades, and who co-wrote the score for FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS), and Ed Valauskas, whom I first met when he played bass so many eons ago in amazing band Gravel Pit. Both have countless connections in the music industry. They would get us to many of the rockers who would so make this film work.
Our second day of filming interviews for COLOR ME OBSESSED was actually set up by Ed. Wednesday, January 27, 2010. Heading north this time, up to Boston. Five interviews in all, three of them taking place at the Q Division Studios. (Thank you very much!)
Only Adrian and I would make trip up. It being a weekday, Jim needed to work. It would actually be just Adrian and myself for a while, or at least until Sarah said, “I want to learn about video.”
The first interview would take place at 11 AM…so we hit the road at 7:30, just in case there was traffic or construction in and around Boston. (Like that could ever happen.)
First up: George Skaubitis, who worked radio promotions for Warner Brothers. George was very quiet and subdued, but he gave me one amazing quote, part of which you can see in the second trailer right here, calling the band a “glorious mess.” It was a short interview, but I’ll always take quality over quantity.
(It’s been a week…sorry about that, besides being on the road, I had to create an M&E for Friends With Benefits. That’s a music and effects track for foreign sales, which will allow for dubbing. But since most all of our sound was recorded live, all of the effects are surrounded by dialog. It basically meant I had to go in and pull or re-create every sound in the film, i.e. when Shirley puts a glass down on the bar, we need to hear the glass touching the bar, and not whatever Shirley might be saying. Tedious, so say the least. It was sort of like having your away-at-college kid show up unexpectedly for a weekend visit, and damn if you hadn’t turned their room into a music room, or screening room, or whatever your pleasure. Unexpected, but still you realized it was nice to see the brat.)
Ok…time to get sidetracked, as I was just in Cleveland for a few last minute cmo interviews and I finally had the opportunity to visit the rock n roll hall of fame, and ok, look, the Springsteen section was amazing, to see his old Tele (the one from the cover of Born To Run) was like seeing Van Gogh’s Starry Night for the first time. Goddamn, did I want to touch it. The blacken neck gave me goosebumps. Every crack in the body’s finish seemed to bleed rock and roll. In my opinion it’s the most important guitar of all time. And I feel honored to have stood in its presence.
And look, sure it’s a gorgeous building, right on the lake, etc., and so forth…but we’ve all seen museums before. This one is supposed to be special! But aside from the Springsteen exhibit, which was inspiring (and the Bowie and Les Paul’s original electric displays as well), I was left wanting more. A LOT MORE. And y’know why? The punk section was closed because of remodeling, so no Clash, no Costello, no Sex Pistols, NO REPLACEMENTS, and yet I would still see shit like Steven Tyler’s or Stevie Nicks’ stage costumes, and countless FM radio crap, that all fell into the same genre. I’m sure that whomever creamed over the Lynyrd Skynyrd display likewise gushed over the ZZ Top. They were covered. But to put the most important movement in rock on the back burner because of remodeling. Fuck! Kill the goddamn Doors display. Or does anyone really care about Pink Floyd’s The Wall? Obviously, the powers that be at the Hall of Fame are as biased as the reporters on Fox News. And as always, the smart minority gets fucked. (Really now, you couldn’t have found room for even a hint of punk? Shame on you!)
Supposedly the remodeling will be complete in 2012, so anyone thinking of visiting should wait.
Ultimately was as the Hall of Fame disappointing? Yes. But would I go back? Sure, I’d give it one more chance to get it right.
My main issue with IndieGoGo.com (aside from how it’s now copied everything great about KickStarter) honestly stems from seeing one of its founders speak at a conference a while back in NYC. He was speaking about selling dvds, and why would anyone want to go with a distributor where sure you might sell 10,000 copies, but only receive $1 per unit, when you could sell them yourself, perhaps sell only 1,000 copies, but receive $10 per unit? To him it was still a profit of $10K, but you only had to move 1,000 units to get there.
I argued from the audience that his notion was idiotic. As an artist you wanted to build an audience, and it was certainly better to have 10,000 people buy your dvd as opposed to one tenth that number. NO MATTER THE PROFIT. That no one making an indie film was getting rich, but that we were hopefully developing a fan base. And certainly 10,000 fans was better than 1,000 fans. A number of people in the audience got it. He didn’t.
If you got into this business to make money, please leave now. There are enough whores in the entertainment industry. But if you’re here because you believe you have a story to tell, a story you have to tell, you will find your audience (or your audience will find you), and perhaps a fan base and career will eventually grow out of your passion.
(I once had an argument with another writer who explained he was livid whenever he found one of his books in a used book store, to which I replied, I loved seeing my books in used book stores, that it was certainly better than the original owner tossing it, and it might turn someone new into a fan, someone who might not be able to buy books at full price. He didn’t understand. All he cared about was the royalty he would not be receiving.)
This is art, not product. And the moment you become more concerned with the profits you make on each unit sold versus reaching out and touching someone new, well then, yes, you have become another entertainment industry whore.
Now I had tried indiegogo.com before for another project. It’s a place where you put your project online, and seek backers. NOT investors. Backers. People who donate money to your film in return for a dvd, a poster, an associate producer credit, a day on set, a role as an extra, anything you can think of really. But unlike investors, they do not own any part of your finished film. They own no part of the profits. They will never be paid back. And likewise you do not have to register with state banking commissions, you do not need a securities lawyer. (Filmmakers, if you’re looking for investors, be careful and check with the laws of individual state. Fines are not fun.) If you can find people who believe in your project this is very much the way to go. But to be honest, I had no luck with indiegogo, and I think most people who tried them at the start were in the same boat. Checking their site now, they seem to have completely changed format, basically copying the much more successful KickStarter.com.
When I first put up COLOR ME OBSESSED on KickStarter back in October 2009, it was mostly an exclusive club. You needed either an invite from one of the people who had projects on the site, or from one of the site’s founders. So I sent said founders an email, explaining who I was, and what I was making, and within a few days received an invite to make CMO a KickStarter project.
You can see the original CMO KickStarter page here, including the listing of what I was offering backers at what price. As you can see it proved tremendously successful. And I knew that when time came to find Mats fans outside of the tri-state area in which I resided, I be able to pack up my crew and go.
As an aside, I can’t say enough great things about KickStater. Everything about it is professional, well thought out, and easy to use. They truly have some amazing projects, and have helped many artists like myself achieve goals which might have otherwise been out of reach. KickStarter rocks!